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Leaders of unregistered opposition party press for liberal wing’s unity

February 14, 2012, 15:48 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

The leaders of the unregistered People’s Freedom Party (PARNAS) came up with another initiative for the liberal wing's unification. They proposed a creation of what they see as a future “mega-party”. Analysts doubt that such an ambitious task is realistic, but some do not rule out that PARNAS may soon be registered and become a full-fledged political player. Even more so should negotiations with the participants of the street protests begin since it looks like the Kremlin sees that party as a likely representative of the protesters.

The co-leaders of the PARNAS party, former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov, former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov and politician Vladimir Ryzhkov have initiated the creation of a new democratic coalition or a party. Consultations are in progress with its potential participants – the Yabloko party, part of the former Union of Right-Wing Forces, former finance minister Alexei Kudrin, presidential candidate and multi-millionaire Mikhail Prokhorov and anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny, the daily Kommersant said with reference to the party’s leaders.

After discussing the current political situation PARNAS's leaders decided to initiate “wide unification of all liberal democrats into a mega-party,” Kasyanov said.

If the law on the simpler registration of political parties enters into force, the authorities will be interested in splitting the democratic camp “by creating a plurality of political parties at daggers drawn with each other,” said Nemtsov. “If five or six centers of attraction on the democratic flank emergest, it would be a disaster, because in that case everyone will get two percent each. This threat is obvious and understandable, so for that reason we decided to think about creating a super-party.”

PARNAS was founded eighteen months ago as a coalition of uncompromising liberals, very critically minded. Its full name was the People’s Freedom Party – for Russia without Arbitrariness and Corruption. In its campaigning the party has always been very critical of the authorities in general and Vladimir Putin in particular. Last June the Ministry of Justice refused to register PARNAS. However, now, that the legislation on political parties began to be liberalized at the initiative of President Dmitry Medvedev, PARNAS has very good chances of being registered, just as many other relatively small Russian parties.

Various unification options have been proposed – from the parties’ consent to drop their individual brands and merge into one structure to the creation of a coalition of equitable participants. The scenario that Kasyanov put forward is for PARNAS and Yabloko to give up their brands and for a new structure be created, which would unite all democrats. About the other scenario Nemtsov said the following: “If there is no merger into one party, then there will be a coalition of equitable participants.”

Kasyanov and Nemtsov said that it would make sense to enter into negotiations on creating a coalition after the presidential election. So far the opposition activists have been meeting with potential allies for “consultations on the political situation in the country.”

“If we manage to create a wide coalition, then we shall be able to get 30 percent in parliamentary elections,” Nemtsov said.

However, the leader of Yabloko, Sergei Mitrokhin, dismissed the project as not viable. “What sort of ideology is that? There is an unclear list of names. These people have very little in common with each other. Such patchy forces will be unable to create a party, that is unrealistic,” he said.

Prokhorov’s adviser, Yuliana Slashchyova, told Kommersant that the big business tycoon keeps in touch with Kudrin. “They have great respect for each other. It is true that they discussed the possibility of creating a new right-wing party, but no specific decisions were produced.”

The liberal camp made repeated attempts to present a common front over the course of the past 20 years, but to no avail. As a rule, the ambitions of various leaders proved to be a stumbling block. For that reason the liberals’ latest initiative drew a lot of skepticism on the Internet and the electronic mass media.

“A mega-party is a too ambitious,” political scientist Stanivslav Belkovsky told Itar-Tass. In his opinion the legislation liberalization process will bring into being three major parties – nationalist, social-democratic, and liberal. “PARNAS may play the role of a liberal party, but for that the list of its leaders is to be renewed,” Belkovsky said, adding that he did not rule out that Kudrin might join the efforts to breathe a new life into PARNAS.

As for the leaders of the Yabloko party, their personal controversies with the leaders of PARNAS are too great. And Prokhorov, in Belkovsky’s opinion, will be seeking a place in the government as soon as the presidential election is over. The political scientist speculates that Prokhorov might lead the liberal wing of the United Russia.

“Kudrin is closer than Prokhorov to the idea of leading PARNAS. But, with the ability of our liberals to come to terms as it is, nothing can be predicted for certain,” Belkovsky said.

In the meantime, according to analysts, the Kremlin looks ready to maintain relations with PARNAS as a party embodying the interests of the participants in the mass opposition rallies For Fair Elections. The founders of PARNAS, according to the RBC Daily, will become the main participants in Dmitry Medvedev’s meeting with the leaders of the non-systemic opposition on February 20. As the daily says with reference to a high-ranking official, only the former prime minister, Mikhail Kasyanov, will not be invited to the Kremlin. The other co-leaders of PARNAS – Ryzhkov, Nemtsov and Vladimir Milov – may hope to get invitations from Medvedev.

There is one main criterion for selecting participants – invited to the meeting will be those who tried to create a party once, but failed to obtain registration from the Ministry of Justice. According to the source, Medvedev wishes to understand how the yet-to-be adopted law's easing requirements for the registration of political parties will work, what parties there will be in the end, and what the political space may look like after the registration of smaller parties. According to a Kremlin official, the president is aware that the existing parties are “far from enthusiastic about the new rules, because these will increase competition,” but at the same time he wants to see if they will not harm the party system.

The reason why the Kremlin has set its eyes on PARNAS is precisely this structure that might serve as a basis for systematizing spontaneous protests and for taking them off the streets. A Kremlin official told the RBC Daily that those demonstrating on Bolotnaya Square and Sakharov Avenue are expected to formalize themselves as a party. Then they would be able to conduct a normal dialogue with the authorities. The Kremlin cannot negotiate with the street protesters. Listening to the demands voiced by a registered party is a totally different matter. The Kremlin sees such a potential in PARNAS. And Vladimir Ryzhkov’s Republican Party may turn out to be another tool to systematize the street activity.

MOSCOW, February 14.